On Tuesday, January 31, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) along with several individual St. Bernard Parish property owners filed a lawsuit in federal court against St. Bernard Parish alleging that the permissive use permit process (PUP process) adopted by the Parish in 2006 is racially discriminatory in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the Parish, alleging that the Parish “violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in a multi-year campaign to limit rental housing opportunities for African-Americans in the parish.” Both suits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
GNOFHAC’s latest complaint alleges that Parish officials “enacted and enforced the PUP Ordinance as part of their overarching and persistent efforts to maintain St. Bernard Parish as a predominantly white enclave.” Further, according to the complaint, Parish officials “enforced the PUP Ordinance by discouraging homeowners from submitting applications, refusing to accept applications, issuing cease and desist orders, and threatening significant fines and judicial enforcement actions.” The suit prays for relief in the form injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
These latest suits stem from civil rights violations on the part of the Parish that have unfolded over the course of more than five years. GNOFHAC has successfully challenged St. Bernard’s two previous multi-family construction moratoria, and an ordinance that restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property. In 2008, the Parish agreed to enter into a consent decree. However, the Parish and the Parish Council have repeatedly been held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the 2008 Consent Order. Racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.
GNOFHAC Executive Director comments “We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken such a strong stance against racial discrimination in housing by filing suit against St. Bernard Parish, but regret that such drastic action has been necessary. Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race and we sincerely hope that new Parish leadership will take the appropriate steps necessary to end discrimination on the part of the Parish once and for all.”
Relman, Dane, and Colfax PLLC represented GNOFHAC in this matter.
1-31-12 Download the press release here.
1-31-12 Read the full GNOFHAC complaint here.
1-31-12 Read the full complaint filed by the U.S. Dept of Justice here.
1-31-12 Read the Nola.com article “Department of Justice applies legal muscle to St. Bernard Parish” here.
1-31-12 Read the AP article “Feds sue St. Bernard Parish over housing” here.
1-31-12 Read the WDSU article “Parish accused of limiting housing for African-Americans” here.
2-3-12 Read the Nola.com editorial “Resolve housing dispute in St. Bernard Parish” here.
For a comprehensive timeline of the St. Bernard Parish litigation, click here.
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